2020 - Winner
SL Lim’s debut work is a dashing and intelligent novel of contemporary life. Focusing on a group of twenty-something friends, it follows their struggles with family, identity and politics, personal ethics and ambition. At the centre of the novel is Nick, the privileged son of a doctor and lawyer who retains ‘the smell of middle-classness, of well-roundedness’. His altruistic friend Andie begins to doubt her charity work when she encounters her colleagues’ casual racism. Andie’s cousin Tony is both lavished with affection and berated by his Indo-Chinese parents. At university, he turns to radical faith.
Lim is a shrewd observer of social tics, hypocrisy and vanities and her central characters are sharply drawn. Real Differences moves from Sydney’s suburbs to Jakarta and London, deftly capturing the atmosphere of each setting. With great sympathy and nuance, Lim depicts the complexities of life and work, and the ways our cultural backgrounds shape relationships. Irreverent and ebullient, this timely novel introduces an exciting new social satirist to Australian literature.
Lim excels at taking difficult personal and political issues and exploring these through the diverse opinions, backgrounds and points of view of her characters. The conversations these characters have are difficult, confronting and complex and Lim handles them with all the subtlety, nuance and depth they deserve. Real Differences is a startling novel of our time and the difficult conversations we need to have now and in the future.